Firsthand Report: Snowshoe 10
By John Bell, Guest Author

When I left Arlington to go snowboarding at Snowshoe with my friend (a skier) in late February, it had rained there the previous weekend. And the resort had, to my horror, declared a moratorium on snowmaking. I was worried we’d be sailing a sea of crust and slush.

To my relieved surprise, the surface at Snowshoe was fairly decent -; groomed granular -; and it got better over the next three days, as more snow fell. Thanks to the natural snow and our midweek package deal, the trip was a not a bad value, and we had a good time on the slopes. But the resort has a lot of room for improvement in its services.

Key to your perception of Snowshoe is what you compare it to. This was my first trip to a mid-Atlantic resort in ten years, and I used to live in Vermont and Colorado. If you’re used to big resorts in New England or out west, the runs at Snowshoe will leave you underwhelmed. But for the mid-Atlantic, I’m told they’re at least average in size. And Snowshoe is much cheaper than resorts in other regions.

But there seems to be quite a bit of hyperbole in the mid-Atlantic about Snowshoe. Although the rain didn’t ruin the slopes, as I’d feared, they weren’t the knee-deep powderfests one might expect. Most of the surface was groomed granular, with a couple of inches of powder when it snowed. Not spectacular, but perfectly adequate, especially for the price. All told, I paid less than $300 for three days of snowboarding, including slopeside lodging for three nights and board rental.

What did bother me and my friend was a host of little annoyances. Only when I went to pick up my snowboard package did they bother to tell me the standard three-day rental ($98) is for step-in bindings only. (No word of this on the website or in the brochures.) To get strap-ins, you have to upgrade to a high-performance demo. On top of the extra $7, they charge you a $3/day “damage waiver.” Again, no mention of this in the website or brochures, even though they bother to point out the sales tax. The damage waiver is in itself forcing customers to pay for what has always been a business cost, but if they’re going to make you pay it, they should tell you before you show up. My rental ended up running me $120.84 for three days. The equipment itself (Burton everything) was high quality, but I wonder if a better deal could be had in some of the shops on WV 66 west, just outside the resort. My friend was disappointed with his skis, which hadn’t been tuned.

Then there were the lifts. Only the two newest lifts have the little t-bar footrests that save your knees. This was more of an issue for my friend, with his heavy ski boots. And at Silver Creek, the lifties didn’t bother brushing the snow off the seats, so we almost slid off while trying to get on. And be prepared: 90 percent of the lifties play country music on the PA system.

Snowshoe has several restaurants, yet on Tuesday night, getting something to eat after 7 p.m. was an ordeal of almost comic proportions. According to the resort, Rosa’s Mexican Cantina was open for dinner. We took a bus there from our lodge, only to find the place closes at 3 p.m. on weekdays. The bus driver didn’t bother to tell us this, even though he knew where we were going. (We later discovered we didn’t miss much, as Rosa’s evidently makes heavy use of the microwave -; culinary heresy to us native Texans.) We went back and found the Foxfire Grille had a 45-minute wait. Then the girl at the pizza place told us they had run out of dough, and so -; no joke -; they were closing. (When I told her I made my own dough at home, she looked at me as if I’d said I could turn lead into gold.) We found the $20 Italian buffet closed as well. Irritated and ravenous, we finally settled on the Junction, where we paid $12 for super nachos -; very tasty but a little steep.

The eating situation highlights a major difference between Snowshoe and, say, Steamboat or Killington. There is no nearby ski town with a host of dining options. The resort is the only game, and the prices and selection reflect the lack of competition.

In Snowshoe’s defense, the food was pretty tasty. And I’m told other mid-Atlantic restaurants usually just have a cafeteria, so Snowshoe is a gastronomic world’s fair compared to them. But the resort needs to do better at publishing accurate listings of when its eateries are open -; and teaching its pizza cooks about the miracle of yeast and flour. The lesson here: eat early and double-check all info.

Other annoyances: The hot tub closes at 9 p.m. The heater in our room at the Spruce Lodge made a clicking noise all night. Although there was never a line more than 10 seconds long for any lift, some runs became crowded in midday. There were almost no standing trail maps at the lifts, and some runs weren’t well marked.

We both had a great time in the Western Territory ripping down Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge (except for Lower Shay’s, which was covered with icy moguls), as well as some of the blue slopes. But it would’ve been nice to have more than two long, challenging runs for advanced skiers and riders. The abundant snowfall on our last two days helped conditions a great deal, although icy patches formed after the early morning. If you go to Snowshoe, the time to be on the slopes is early morning and up till closing time, when most people are heading inside.

This brings up another peculiarity of Snowshoe. It calls itself an “upside-down mountain” because all lodging, restaurants and services are at the top, not at the bottom. This means you must catch the lift back up before 4:30, when they stop. You thus end your day with a ride up the lift, rather than one last run down the mountain, and this left us feeling a bit cheated. It also means you have to take a bus to the Silver Creek area and walk across a road to get to the Western Territory. The bus has a rack for skis but not for snowboards, so riders must carry their gear aboard.

If you’re looking for a singles’ scene, you might look elsewhere or come on the weekend. Maybe it was because it was midweek, or maybe the other late-20- and early-30-somethings were waiting for Spring Break, but most of the other folks there were couples with kids. Not a problem for us, though; we were there for the snow.

One thing we were both glad of: We didn’t stay at the Inn at Snowshoe. It’s six miles from the resort and requires a bus ride to get there. Spruce Lodge is a bit noisy, but it’s right by the lift and has cable TV.

Overall, Snowshoe isn’t a bad deal if you go midweek and don’t mind the quirks I’ve mentioned. But I wonder if one might find an equally good value at Timberline or the Pennsylvania resorts. I suspect Snowshoe’s real advantage kicks in when the DC area is not getting natural snow; then Snowshoe’s snowmaking ability makes a difference. If you do decide to make the drive, try to bring your own equipment, double-check any information Snowshoe gives you about anything, and put any thoughts of Killington or Steamboat out of your mind. If you can do those things, you’ll have a good time at Snowshoe.

A note on getting there and getting back:

From Arlington, I took the resort’s directions: I-66 to I-81 to route 33 and then a series of small West Virginia routes. The weather was good, and even though there were many steep hairpin turns and a couple of massive mountains, this route worked fine. I made the 235 miles in just under five hours.

On the way back, there was ample snow and freezing rain. I was afraid route 33 would be icy or covered in snow. I took WV route 66 west to 219 south and then to I-64. Big mistake. This route ended up being 317 miles and, in bad weather, 6.5 hours. The one high point was passing the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck.

And by the way, there’s cheap gas to be had in Western VA, starting north of Harrisonburg!

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Reader Comments

johnfmh
March 6, 2003
John:

I enjoyed your article and appreciated your honest appraisal of Snowshoe. Midweek service can be spotty at just about any resort on the East Coast. Most people go on weekends and as result, many restaurants and other services cannot afford to stay open during the midweek. For me, the big issue is lifelines and crowded slopes, and going midweek is the way to avoid these hassles. In my opinion, these positives outweigh any negatives of midweek.

With respect to the surcharge on boards, I read a recent article somewhere about how riders depreciate equipment quicker than skiers. According to the article, expert riders go through a couple of boards every season. Is that true? If so, that may explain the surcharge.
JR
March 6, 2003
How about the time that we went to Canaan Valley Resort with a church group and the package deal included lift and rental. So we get there and the woman tells us that it doesn't count snowboard rentals so we assume we have to pay the difference in a snowboard rental and ski rental...right? NOPE, we had to pay the full price, 35 bucks or so for one day rental plus the "package" deal. So if you had gone to Canaan on a package, you would have paid an extre...cha ching...$105.00 compared to the $22 extra at Snowshoe. Needless to say we only go to Timberline if we're in the Valley now.

Something to note from your trip is that as far as i know, most resorts around here don't even offer strap in rentals. I guess the wear and tear is just too much on them. Its much simpler to have an indistructable Rossi step in I guess. You will wear out strap bindings but it does take a lot of riding to wear out a board.
JohnL
March 6, 2003
A damage waiver surcharge on ski rentals is very common. Typically the surcharge is optional, similar to the optional collision/insurance coverage on rental cars which you must explicitly decline. Don't know if Snowshoe required the surcharge or not. I agree that if the website listed sales tax, it should in fairness list other possible surcharges.

I rented a pair of high-performance skis at Taos this past season and had the option of paying $3 for the damage waiver. Since the reason I was renting that day was that I had destroyed my own skis the previous day, I gladly payed the surcharge. (In 30 years of skiing, first time I've ever ruined a pair of skis.)

As a price comparison, I paid about $35 for one day (very good skis and well-tuned). So, $120 for three days @Snowshoe is a bit steep IMHO.
snowcone
March 6, 2003
Well, I don't know about Silver Creek, but the only lifties that play country on the Basin side are those on Powderidge lift.

I agree the lack of food service during the week can be a bummer. Thats why we usually bring stuff with us that can be heated up via the nuker .. or ... (insider secret) you can order out for pickup at the Junction and Foxfire. We have done that several times for a hassle-less meal back at the condo.

Nightlife is generally relegated to the weekends. The bar at the Foxfire is the place to go earlier in the evening haunt of ski instructors and assorted bunnies. Later on, do the Connection especially on themed weekends (Absolut, Beach Party, etc.).

As far as advanced long runs, I understand there are new runs in the works on the Western Territories. Hopefully they will be ready by next season ... and ... several new runs are being cut on the Basin side as well.

Hey its not such a bad thing to quite at 4:30, especially if you have been up since 1st tracks. Leaves time for a long hot shower and more time for brews and buds at the Foxfire!
JohnL
March 6, 2003
I thought the possible terrain expansion on the Western Territory side was a ways off?

Didn't someone on this site mention that the Basin-side terrain expansion was already underway?
snowcone
March 6, 2003
The lumber crews were actively clearing trees on the Basin side in early February; been there, saw that.

A week ago at Whitetail, I was told by a guy on the lift that several of the old logging slides on the Western Territory side were to be re-cleared for runs. His take was that it would take place sooner rather than later. So I imagine that if they plan to have those runs ready for next season they probably would be clearing them about now. I intend to take a look at the end of the month when we head to Snowshoe again.
johnfmh
March 6, 2003
Scott Smith interviewed resort officials about expansion in his last firsthand report. In a nutshell, Intrawest would like to expand the WT but all is contingent on an environmental impact study, so don't expect changes to happen immediately. The basin expansion, however, has been approved and is moving forward. See the article for more details

You can read what he says here:

http://www.dcski.com/news/2003/03012003/snowshoe.php3
JohnL
March 6, 2003
I agree with the original author that advanced terrain at Snowshoe is nice, but I just wish there was a bit more of it given the 4.5 hour driving distance from the DC area.

However, terrain expansion on the Western Territory side could be a double-edged sword. It would be great to get more advanced terrain, but if intermediate or beginner terrain was added and serviced by the existing lift, a lot of the crowds that you see on the Basin-side would move to the Western Territory side. While the current choices on the Western Territory side are limited, at least the lift lines are minimal.
Scott
March 6, 2003
That's right, the Western Territory expansion is hypothetical at this point and there are no plans to have any new trails cut in time for next season. An environmental impact study must first happen, and that could take a year or more. If the Western Territory is deemed habitat to the flying squirrels and salamanders, which is likely, then clearing would have to be performed in the winter (completed prior to April 1 when they begin nesting). So the earliest you would see new terrain in the Western Territory is the 2004-2005 season.

Snowshoe officials told me that they're aware that the Western Express lift is underutilized and can support a number of additional runs. So they will take expansion to the Western Territory -- it's just not imminent.

The additional clearing in the main basin area is well under way and should be complete by April. Snowshoe will add snowmaking pipe this summer, in time for next winter season. This is primarily to widen some runs and eliminate cross-overs; I'm not sure the trail count will increase much if at all. They're also looking to put in a new Superpipe in the basin area and terrain park, so the widening is in support of that.
Gigantor
March 14, 2003
Why did you ever think Snowshoe would be like Colorado or Vermont? You'd have to be nuts to think it was going to be "knee deep powder". If you don't like the rentals at the slope, rent in DC before you leave. Awwww, poor baby, there's no foot rest on those lifts that take a few minutes to get you to the top, and your poor bum got cold on the snowy seat. Boohoohoo, the hot tub closed at 9.

"The eating situation highlights a major difference between Snowshoe and, say, Steamboat or Killington."

HELLO, this is NOT Steamboat or Killington! This is WEST VIRGINIA! Adjust your expectations accordingly! Geez, you want limited dining options, try being stuck in the village at Smuggler's Notch.

"You thus end your day with a ride up the lift, rather than one last run down the mountain, and this left us feeling a bit cheated."

But you had your last run before you got on the lift!

"But I wonder if one might find an equally good value at Timberline or the Pennsylvania resorts."

Snowshoe is head and shoulders above 7 Springs, I'll tell you that.

Man, what a crybaby.

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